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!!!!!!!!!! What does Complete Soil do for the planet?  RSS feed

 
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The Planet Earth is one huge, complex ecosystem. In Science we break this ecosystem into parts because it would be impossible to study all the complex interactions any other way.
By breaking the ecosystem into parts, science is able to continue to break these parts into small bits which we can devise experiments to study, take measurements, and find micro bits of how it all works.
The problem of our need to do our studies this way is that we rarely then plug all these micro bits back together so we can report on the "BIG PICTURE" in a manner that people can understand.
I'm giving this background so that the rest of this thread will make more sense to the reader since I am going to attempt to connect the dots.
If I do a good job then you will see the complex interactions in the ecosystem that occur every day and make it possible for humans and all other life forms to be alive on planet earth.
If I do a bad job, well, I apologize now for mucking it up.

The ecosystem that we call Earth can be broken down into land ecosystem, water ecosystem, air ecosystem and core ecosystem.
Land is comprised of invertebrate, vertebrate and plants each can and is being studied as separate but (if you add water and air) each of these interacts with the others to form the whole of this part of the ecosystem, if one goes awry all others are affected.
Water is comprised of salt water and fresh water, water happens to be one of the huge parts of the carbon cycle and every living thing is dependent upon the carbon cycle.
Carbon is a mineral, every molecule of any living thing is dependent upon the presence of carbon, and right now we have some problems with the water and air portions of our ecosystem because of how humans have abused this relationship.
Let me explain a bit of that last statement; carbons most abundant form is CO2, carbon dioxide, it is the driving force of the changes we see in weather patterns, air and sea temperature rises, and the melting of the ice caps which are causing the rise in sea level, this is the short list.
What occurs on land effects the air quality and water quality, then we have the planet core, what is happening there will affect everything that happens up here on the "surface" of the planet.
Humans have, for the last few thousand years, been increasing the foreign particles present only because of human activities, these particles (pollutants) have been on a rapid increase since the early 1800's when the Industrial Revolution began.
When we invented the internal combustion engine and started using liquefied plant matter and compressed plant matter (oil and coal) for fuels the downward spiral of the earth was put into high gear, air quality went down rapidly in areas of high human concentration and spread over the planet.
I'll talk more about this one singular issue and many of the ramifications of it later in this thread.

The sun's rays travel out and continue far past our solar system of planets, earth is the one planet in the sweet spot for life (as we currently know it) to flourish.
Most folks know some about the big bang theory of how the universe was born and the stars and planets formed.
What many (and most of the super wealthy seem to be in this category) don't understand is that every speck of what happens to one life form can, and usually does, have some affect and or effect on many other life forms.
When that "something" happens we call it a disturbance or a disruption, depending on what was the primary item effected. From that point, there is a domino effect as one after another life form responds to what happened, in extreme cases one or more life forms cease to exist, what we call an extinction occurs.
Over the last 200 years we see an extinction occur at the rate of around 4 events per day, and most of these can be traced back to some human activity.

In a couple of previous threads here in the soil forum, I went through a lot of what happens in order for there to be the substance we call soil and I gave the definition of dirt, which is one of the building blocks of soil.
Great soil is full of little pockets and channels that contain air until there is a rain event when they fill up with water and then the water sinks deeper, following these channels and as the water sinks it pulls air in so there is an exchange via capillary action and it goes to work during every rain event.
These little channels also serve as highways for some of the larger microorganisms such as springtails and nematodes and earthworms will sometimes follow these channels making them larger and even smoother as the earth worm feeds.
If we look at these little soil features we will find bacteria, amoeba, flagellates and other microorganisms literally everywhere. Along with these we will see long strands (hyphae) which are the fungi, we might even find tiny roots, some surrounded by the rest of this tiny part of the ecosystem of earth.
If we had the right instrumentation we might be able to measure electrical current and determine, through which direction(s) these currents were flowing, we could find out which organisms were communicating with each other.
If we added instrumentation to detect ion flows and chemical releases, we would be able to see the whole of the conversations all the life of the soil and we could then determine not only who is talking with who but what they were saying.
This is the stage of our knowledge that is beginning to be studied and documented now, we are not able to understand the whole of the conversation(s) but we can know that they are happening and we can determine part of the who is talking to who, we just need to be able to understand the conversation.

I'll be continuing this thread over the next few weeks and I hope by the end you will be able to see that "BIG PICTURE" and thus understand that even though we live in an extremely complex world, it is also fairly simple if we just follow what already goes on right under our noses and feet.

Redhawk
 
Bryant RedHawk
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There is a lot of talk about carbon sequestering being the key to slowing the planet warm up we are experiencing right now.
Some folks are saying we need to plant more trees because that will slow the global warming.
Some say we need to get the excess carbon into the soil and that will slow the global warming.
Some say nothing we can do now will remotely slow the global warming.

It seems to me that this is a type of mass confusion, the first thing we need to be able to do is to grasp what carbon is being talked about, since carbon is literally everywhere and in many forms, when you want to sequester carbon, which form of carbon is being talked about?
Since all living things contain carbon (every living cell, of every living organism contains carbon atoms and molecules) and all living things breathe out carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide), it can be confusing.
Especially if you hear someone talk about burying wood chips to sequester carbon, then hear someone else talk about growing more trees or grasses or and plants to sequester more carbon.
While it is true that doing these things will keep the carbon atoms they contain or breathe in contained for a period of time, some longer than others, these plant materials only deal with carbon that is in the atmosphere or already in the ground.
Where does most of that free, atmospheric carbon come from? what form is it in? where does it go?

The main form of carbon, the one we need to be concerned with, because everything makes it, is carbon dioxide. It is put into the atmosphere with every breath from every living thing, it also comes from fuel combustion so every coal burning power plant, every factory that needs heat, every automobile, all are exhaling CO2, every minute of every day and night. At night plants suck in some of this CO2 and use the O2 to breathe, they use the freed up carbon to build their cells and fuel their inner workings, unfortunately when the sun is up and they are again using photosynthesis to provide their energy needs, they are exhaling CO2, so plants at best are a break even situation for controlling CO2. One of the coolest things about CO2 is that it is water soluble, lakes, rivers, the oceans all can suck up lots of carbon. CO2 that ends up in the oceans makes some remarkable trips, the ocean water sucks up CO2 and cools down, the cold water sinks towards the bottom and takes the CO2 along for the ride, the organisms of the seas make use of some of this carbon but once again they are organisms and that means they exhale CO2 so there is a balance there. As the ocean water continues to cool it sinks deeper, this is part of what creates the oceanic currents, the CO2 that is along for the ride, goes with the flow of these currents, it is the longest rollercoaster ride on planet earth, some of this CO2 will not see daylight again for 3,000 years. Along with cooling currents there are warming currents and when our CO2 is swept up in one of the warming currents, it is headed back to the surface, where it will most likely find its way back into the atmosphere, if nothing is able to suck it up, it travels up and up until it reaches the bottom of the stratosphere, where it has been forming a warming  blanket for the last few hundred years. The suns rays strike the earth mother, warming us up so it is comfortable enough for life as we know it to flourish. These Sun rays then bounce back up, heading away, which should be back out into space. The CO2 blanket though is in the  way and the thicker it becomes, the harder it is for the sun rays to get back out into space. Instead they hit the blanket and bounce back towards the earth once again, creating more heat and we have the Ta-Da of global warming.

Now we know what is going on, how do we fix it and reduce the amounts of CO2 forming that thermal blanket at the bottom of the stratosphere so we can reverse the effects we are feeling and also stop the icecaps from melting, which raises the level of the seas and takes away the polar bear's ability to feed for as many months as they need to so they don't get around humans because they are hungry and all the other bad things that are happening  because of the excess CO2?
The best way is a multiple strategy approach, replant the Rain Forests that have been cut down, reduce the amount of automobiles, trains, planes, ships and "vehicle toys" being used, or in easier terms; reduce the amount of internal combustion engine use and reduce the amount of fuels used to produce electricity, on a daily basis. This is not an easy thing to do, but it will come down to having to do it, if we want to continue life as we currently know it.

I have some ideas and there are others out there that also have some ideas, but will it be enough and do we have enough time left to implement all of them to save the world as we know it?
What ideas do you have?  How much time do you think we have to "get er done"?

of course I'll be back with more

Redhawk
 
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Amazing stuff so far. Can't wait to read more

Personally I am terrified of run-away climate change. There's gigatons of methane stored in frozen form in the permafrost. Once the permafrost thaws and releases all that methane, that'll be the end of everything. Similar situation with oceanic currents - If the ocean at the poles stops being significantly colder than the ocean at the equator, the currents will stop and the oceans will become anerobic (a.k.a ocean anoxia which has been linked to previous mass-extinction events). Imagining these scenarios turns my stomach.

I'm interested in using biochar as CO2 sequestration. It's use has so many other benefits - improved soil fertility, improved water-retention in the soil (which in turn reduces field run-off of fertilizers), toxin absorption.

I'm also excited by Richard Branson's Virgin Earth Challenge - it's a twenty five million dollar prize to anybody who can demonstrate a viable method to extract significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. There are currently 11 finalists and three of those are using biochar in their solution. Here's a presentation at the 2012 US Biochar Conference by a rep of the Virgin Earth Challenge. In fact, all the videos at that conference are worth watching if you're interested in biochar.

The down side of large scale biochar production is that it could potentially steal land away from food production - which would lead to world wide food price increases. Also, we do not want to chop down existing biomass - we will need to plant it specifically for use as biochar. Hemp and bamboo are good options, I think.

Here are some of my more general ideas:
- CO2 sequestration by any means - be it biological or mechanical
- "Powering down" (less demand for non-renewable resources in all areas)
      - Reject materialism as a way of life
- Electric vehicles (I'm skeptical the Earth has enough raw material to build the batteries needed)
      - Fully autonomous vehicles eliminates the need for private vehicle ownership - fewer batteries needed. Also cars will stop being seen as a status symbol (less materialism)
      - Telecommuting anywhere possible
      - Eliminate strict "9-5" working structure - spread rush hour traffic out so cars can be used for multiple commutes every day
      - Improve public transportation so it isn't considered a last-resort
      - Significantly reduce recreational travel (most people will laugh at you if you suggest this)
- Regeneration of all natural systems
      - Significantly less meat consumption (a leading cause of rain forest destruction). Meat production is also staggeringly inefficient in all aspects.
      - Much better use of fertilizers to eliminate field run-off leading to river and ocean "dead zones"
      - More accountability to corporations that engage in destructive business practices ("ecocide"). Make pollution not economically viable and not socially acceptable.
      - Ocean reservations where all fishing is illegal (use satellites to detect fishing boats)
- Use ambitious space exploration missions to inspire self-awareness of the planet we live on (the photos of Earth taken by the Apollo missions were a significant catalyst in the environmental movement - watch The Overview Effect if you don't believe me).
      - We need more scientists in politics

There's probably loads more but that's all I can think of right now.
 
Mother Tree
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At night plants suck in some of this CO2 and use the O2 to breathe, they use the freed up carbon to build their cells and fuel their inner workings, unfortunately when the sun is up and they are again using photosynthesis to provide their energy needs, they are exhaling CO2, so plants at best are a break even situation for controlling CO2.


You sure you got the right way round?
 
Burra Maluca
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Richard Feynman on how a tree gets it's mass and what is stored within it.



This is a fairy succint explanation


image from here
 
pollinator
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I've always found the seasonal breathing of the boreal forests to be super fascinating. Here's a cool video showing how the those forests make the whole earth breathe CO2 throughout the seasons https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/details.php?id=1163

I'm curious — why do you choose to focus specifically on replanting the Rainforests, rather than other plant-based replanting? Is the opportunity to be gained there higher due to the year-round growing season?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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One of the most misunderstood things about how this planet works, or used to be one of the most misunderstood, is the role of large swaths of forest in weather patterns.
Large swaths of forest either rain forest or temperate forest, do more than just suck in CO2, they also create large areas of cooler air, help hold moisture in or near the soil at their feet and they act as huge filter systems both airborne particles and ground borne particles, along with part of the water filtration system of the earth. Rain forest is an interesting ecosystem, the soil of a rainforest is not rich soil, it is mostly very poor soil with the sustaining humus coming from the canopy litter that falls to the forest floor. When you cut the trees down, you have destroyed the ability of the soil to replenish the all important nutrient layer.
What happens is the forest is cut down, crops are planted for about 2 years with good results, then the soil is completely depleted of nutrients. Now another section of forest is cut down and the 2 year productive cycle is repeated. Not your best  method and in no way sustainable.
If you add in the fact that for the last 100 years we have been finding new medicines at a staggering rate in the rain forest, and that we know maybe 1/10th (if we are lucky) of the plants and animals that call the rainforest home, we are destroying far more than just the forest.
The worst part is that we now have a dead forest floor that can not sustain the tree seeds of those that were cut down. With nothing to stop erosion, the poor soil is washed away and fills in the river beds or travels out to the ocean floor. While there is work being done to try and replant the lost square miles of rainforest, they are not having the success they thought they would have, this is because what used to be, has been utterly destroyed and now needs a lot of remediation just to be able to sustain new seedling trees. This is going on in many areas, but at a far slower rate than the rate of destruction still going on.

With out these huge areas that provide cool air in the equatorial portion of the planet, we feel the effects of other phenomena that occur on the planet, such as the El Nino and La Nina oceanic hot and cool spots that are occurring more and more frequently than at anytime prior to rapid deforestation beginning.
We cut down the largest, oldest trees in all forests because these are the ones worth the most money. These also happen to be the best trees for climate regulation, since they do contain the largest quantity of carbon, which once cut, and processed, actually put back into the atmosphere as much carbon as they still contain as boards. So here we are, adding more CO2 than can be actively recycled, every day, combined with more heat because we lost the cooling effect of much of the rainforest. It is also important to understand that the equatorial zone is not the only area we can find rain forest, the North West region of North America contains a huge coastal rain forest and it too is being cut at an alarming rate, with the resulting loss of cooling effect and soil erosion just like the equatorial zone rainforest destruction problems.

The good news is that we do have people working to get these forests back in place. The bad news is that the greed that created them in the first place, isn't going away and is probably only getting larger.
More good news, we can do small parts of what these missing forests did for our weather with other plants. The bad news, these other plants can not and will not create the cooling effect of the forest canopy.
One of the best plant groups to use for rapid carbon sequestering are the grasses, an acre of grass plants can sequester 4 times as much carbon as an acre of trees, there is one caveat about this use of the grass family, they don't perform long term sequestration of carbon.
So what we need is a way to get the quantity of carbon grass is able to suck up and we then need to be able to make it stay locked up the way trees do. In the grass family bamboo is the one plant able to hold onto to most of the carbon it sequesters the longest period of time.
One of the things we really have to pay attention to is to not try to grow things that would not naturally be able to grow in any area we are remediating in our attempt to save the planet as a habitat for humans and other animals and plants.
If you go look at some of the places where humans have tried to go against nature, they are constantly working to keep nature from taking over, this means poisons and constant disruption to keep natural succession from occurring.
This is not sustainable and does cause more planet contamination, the very things we need to reverse as fast as possible.

It doesn't help much when the politics of the world focus on what is good for the rich, the rich think they are in control, that thinking is what got us to the desperate place we are in now, it will not change unless overall thinking about what success is changes.
Those who govern, need to be replaced on a regular basis, so we can get politicians to realize that politics is not a profession but more like the founding fathers of the USA intended it to be, something you do for love of country, but you then have to go back to the real world for your living.
How smart is it to have people who have not held a job or position outside of government running a country? They have no foundation in the very world they govern, so how do they expect or how do the people expect them to know how to make the right decisions? They have nothing in their experience to guide their thought processes. This means that they are going to listen to those who have the most money, since those are the people they are exposed to that can have an effect on their livelihood, far more than anyone who just votes, the ones who give the money for the campaign are looked at as the ones to be pleased.
Once you allow that level of corruption, it becomes more and more difficult to get the financing to do anything other than what the money men think is best for themselves, they sure aren't going to want to take land out of current use, since that would cut into their profit margins.
You aren't going to get a rancher that has been destroying the Sage Lands for decades so he can raise cows there to suddenly stop destroying the sage lands so he can grow grass for fodder. But it is this sort of thing that sustains the bad practices we need to change now to save the future.

China, one of the largest polluter nations on the planet right now, is mandating a surge in electric vehicles and at the same time a reduction in gasoline powered vehicles. This is what needs to happen in every country, the governments can dictate what the private sector focuses on or loose profit margins.
That makes corporate decisions work for the planet survival instead of against planet survival.

Redhawk

 
Bryant RedHawk
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So how does all this relate to What complete soil does? Complete soil allows all plants (trees, shrubs, bushes, and every plant down to moss) to thrive, grow as large as they should and that means they are able to pull in more CO2 and send carbon into their cellular structure with excess going into the soil as exudates, where other organisms can make use of the carbon thus keeping more carbon out of the atmosphere longer. The more large, long living plants that are alive, the better from a CO2 POV for the planet. When we can have large trees along with grasses growing in the same area, we are allowing more CO2 to have the opportunity to become locked (sequestered) away from the atmosphere because the carbon taken in by the grass will end up with some of it going into tree root systems where it becomes part of the wood and that carbon will stay put until the tree dies and begins to rot. In the case of trees like the giant redwood or the Brazilian Rose wood and similar species/ sub species, we can be talking of thousands of years.

In the oceans, the more phytoplankton we can have out in the open oceans the more of that CO2 that was dissolved in the sea water can remain out of the atmosphere. When we look at the combination of quantities, we can determine that we can indeed stop and probably reverse the current free atmosphere CO2, bringing it down to a more in line with our previous habitat quantities and that will create a situation where the CO2 blanket can be thinned out back to a level we can live with. Doing this we would find a lessening of frequency of many of the "natural" disasters we are watching rise in frequency today.

What science is trying to get across is that while we humans have mucked things up by our greedy ways, we can make our travesty at least subside enough as to get back to a more predictable set of circumstances than where we are heading now.

It is also true that we can grow green plants on rock, those plants will follow a natural progression, building soil where there was none. This works and can be observed in our world today, the first succession in such a situation is the growth of lichens, these break down the surface of the rock they grow on, which creates a tiny pocket of mineral dust and as parts of the lichen die and begin to decompose, organic material is added to the new rock dust. We know that soil is mineral dust that contains organic material and we know that these two together support microorganism life forms, add the three together and you have soil.
In parts of the world where the soil is actually dirt, we can add organic material by growing green plants in that dirt and as the little bits of those plants die and decompose we add organic material to the dirt and we will end up with soil. The longer we grow green plants in this medium, the better the soil will become, until it is able to support larger plants and then it will support trees and then more carbon can be taken in and held until the plant/tree dies and begins to decompose. All this is part of the great circle of life, our job is to not stop the succession until it reaches a point where we need it to remain at so we can collect the foods it supplies us with. That state is what Permaculture is about, a state of succession that nature fuels and we reap some benefits from without actually doing any damage to the system. If we do it right, we are not adding to problems but gathering food with little or no inputs and we are not adding to the CO2 levels and we are not taking away from the CO2 levels, we are in balance which is the state of equilibrium the planet would like to be in.

Redhawk
 
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